The Lansing Report
The world in which we operate is changing.
Many of us find ourselves in a race to keep up with e-mail, voicemail and, yes, even old-fashioned regular mail. Carving out time for lunch, let alone time to spend with our families, is more and more challenging. We need date planners, digital assistants, and cell phones to keep up with the pace and to keep us "in the loop."
So what is the Bar’s role in this ever-changing environment?
Consistent with the trend of an accelerating pace, electronic filing is coming. The Bar’s role here will be to help members understand and take advantage of electronic filing—and offer the service at a discount. The State Bar’s Membership Services Committee, with the assistance of Lisa Allen-Kost, State Bar Assistant Executive Director for Affinity Bars and Member Services, has been studying electronic filing applications for nearly two years.
After a review of national electronic filing programs, a look at what’s happening here in Michigan, and a number of other factors, the committee recommended that the Bar develop an electronic filing "pilot program" that can serve as a model for a statewide plan.
After a careful review of various courts and their technological capabilities, the committee recommended a partnership with the Washtenaw County Bar Association. The Bar is looking forward to working with Washtenaw to further develop the project’s parameters.
Overall, the Bar’s role has been, and will continue to be, serving lawyers and judges who serve the public. Ultimately, the Bar needs to remain important to lawyers in their professional lives if it is to properly execute its role. Working on electronic filing is just one example; there are many others. Last year we brought the e-Journal to the profession. The e-Journal is a quick and easy tool lawyers and judges now use every day to stay up-to-date on the latest cases from Michigan courts. Brief summaries, organized by practice area, linked via the Internet to full text opinions, all at no additional charge for the profession—the e-Journal is an example of the kind of service members can and should expect from their State Bar.
Serving the Public
To truly remain important to the profession, the Bar must also engage in activities that are in the best interest of the public, which we ultimately serve.
Access to Justice
The Bar’s access to justice efforts began in earnest in 1995 when we partnered with the Michigan State Bar Foundation and the Legal Services Association of Michigan to develop a plan for improving civil legal services for the poor in Michigan. The resulting Michigan Plan for the Delivery of Civil Legal Services to the Poor outlined a number of recommendations regarding legal services and the three plan partners have acted upon most of those recommendations. Just recently, the Bar co-hosted a statewide summit in Lansing to present the "Michigan Plan 2000." Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, former chair of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and a past president of the State Bar of Michigan, served as keynote speaker at the summit and encouraged all lawyers to participate in pro bono service.
In 1996, the State Bar further emphasized the importance of the Access to Justice program when it reaffirmed it as one of the 10 Basic Goals of the Bar. The Bar’s Access to Justice program seeks to increase opportunities for lawyers’ pro bono work, improve the mechanisms for the delivery of legal services and the use of technology, and increase the development of financial resources to address the unmet legal needs of the poor.
The program received national recognition in 1998 when it received the American Bar Association’s Harrison Tweed Award. The Tweed Award recognizes extraordinary achievements of state and local bar associations in providing access to civil legal services to low-income individuals.
Working for access to justice for all should be part of the Bar’s role no matter how fast-paced and busy we become as lawyers.
The State Bar of Michigan is committed to assisting its members in maintaining the highest ethical standards. The Bar’s Standing Committee on Judicial and Professional Ethics answers written questions from members regarding judicial and professional ethics. The inquiries are limited to the prospective conduct of the inquirer. The committee issues informal ethics opinions, and when adopted by the State Bar’s Board of Commissioners, formal ethics opinions.
The State Bar also provides an "Ethics Hotline" as a service to members. Members who have ethical questions regarding their own prospective conduct may call the Hotline at (517) 485-3849 and receive the informal, personal opinion of staff counsel. Regulation Counsel Thomas Byerley and Assistant Counsel Victoria Kremski handle 25-40 calls on the Hotline each day. Handling this volume of calls every day is the kind of service the Bar offers that benefits members and the public.
Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program
The Michigan Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP), a service offered by the State Bar of Michigan, has been in existence since 1979, making it one of the oldest lawyers’ assistance programs in the country. Often called a "broad brush" program, the LJAP is prepared to assist families and individuals who are faced with issues related to depression, HIV/AIDS, gambling, chemical dependency, stress, marriage and family difficulties, and/or life stage adjustment issues.
Senior Director William Livingston and Director Martha Burkett, both highly experienced and skilled addictions and mental health professionals, staff the LJAP. All contact with the LJAP is completely confidential and LJAP policy is based on federal confidentiality guidelines, which prohibit disclosure about program participants to anyone without prior written consent.
There is no charge for telephone consultations or other LJAP services provided to lawyers, judges, their families, or employees of the State Bar. The LJAP is happy to assist law firms in the identification of those in need of services, as well as facilitating an attorney monitoring agreement for the attorney in question, as appropriate. The LJAP also provides educational seminars.
The State Bar continues to have a strong legislative program. The Bar has held regular meetings with legislative leaders, key committee members, and the lawyer legislators serving in the House and Senate. We continue to focus on issues dealing with the efficiency and efficacy of our courts, the economics of the practice of law, the ethics and regulation of the profession and, of course, on the other issues that are permitted under the Supreme Court Order 93-5. The Bar’s legislative program is regulated by the Court under this order. The presence of the State Bar of Michigan in public policy is very important and continues to be effective and strong.
Each month the State Bar publishes a "Legislative Report" in the Michigan Bar Journal complete with new bills to be considered by the Bar’s Board of Commissioners and a "Legislative Program" with a list of bills on which the State Bar has taken an official position. The Bar also publishes legislative information on its website at http://www.michbar.org/legislative/ As you might expect, the information on our website is updated much sooner than we are able to provide the information in the Bar Journal. It’s all part of our fast-paced environment.
Open Justice System
In conjunction with the State Bar’s Long Range Plan, the Bar established Goal VIII of its 10 Basic Goals: The State Bar of Michigan shall support and improve the openness of the profession. The State Bar has made a commitment to addressing and eliminating bias and discrimination within the profession and has been proactive in these efforts. In 1998, the State Bar’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the creation of the State Bar of Michigan Open Justice Commission. The commission is co-chaired by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly and Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Harold Hood. Its mission is to raise public and professional awareness of open justice issues and the impact of race, ethnic origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability on the fair delivery of justice in our state; to reduce or eliminate such bias or invidious discrimination within the courts or legal profession; and to increase public confidence in the fairness of the legal profession and the equal application of law for all citizens.
At this time, the commission has 35 active projects, including:
•The creation of a Court Service Protocol
•Certification of court interpreters and translation of court documents
•Survey of the impact of disabilities on judges, lawyers, and users within the courts and legal profession
•Creation of an inter-faith Bench/Bar guide
•Creation of a Best Practices Manual for juvenile community-based prevention and treatment
•Support of the Kent County Law Center Future Search project
•An educational program on sexual orientation and gender identity and the law
•A pro bono initiative for increasing legal representation for domestic violence victims
•A four-county initiative to increase representation and participation in juries
The work of the State Bar’s Open Justice Department and Open Justice Commission are an integral part in ensuring equality and diversity in the legal profession and the justice system as a whole.
These are all core areas of concern to the Bar that remain important even in a changing environment. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list. But whether it is positioning the Bar to help members deal with advances in technology or fulfilling the Bar’s responsibilities in serving the public, you can be assured that your State Bar is here to address the issues facing the legal profession now and in the future. We are committed to ensuring that the Bar is, and continues to be, important to the public and to members in their professional lives.